• Rewind to 1975

Spurs come to life at season's death

Jon Carter
January 24, 2013
Alfie Conn scored one and created two others as Spurs magnificently avoided relegation by beating Leeds 4-2 © Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur's FA Cup fourth-round trip to Leeds United is live on ESPN this Sunday at 2.00pm. Click here for details on how to subscribe

One of the most important games in Tottenham's history came in 1975, when Spurs were left languishing in the relegation zone and had to beat the reigning champions, Leeds United, on the final day of the season to ensure they stayed in the top flight.

The first 'glory years' at Tottenham came under Bill Nicholson in the 1960s. Having arrived at White Hart Lane as an apprentice in 1936, Nicholson's commitment to the club saw him serve them in almost every capacity possible until he left in 1974.

Claiming English football's first 'double' of the 20th century in 1961, he went on to bring home the 1962 FA Cup, and in 1963 added the European Cup Winners' Cup to become the first British club to win a European trophy, beating Atletico Madrid 5-1 in Rotterdam.

One of the toughest tasks for a manager is rebuilding, but Nicholson faced the challenge as his side began to disintegrate in the following years and still went on to claim the 1967 FA Cup before bringing about renewed success in Europe in the 1970s. Nicholson added two League Cups (1971 and 1973) and the UEFA Cup of 1972 to Tottenham's trophy cabinet but, after ensuring the most successful period in their history with eight major trophies in 16 years, he stepped down and lined up Johnny Giles and Danny Blanchflower to take over.

Spurs had made an awful start to the 1974-75 season - even Carlisle United beat them in the league as part of a four-game losing run - but Tottenham's board had other ideas over who could turn their fortunes around. Against the wishes of both Nicholson and the fans, they appointed ex-Arsenal player Terry Neill.

Martin Chivers, left, playing against Manchester City, shrugged off two months of inactivity to help Spurs stay up © PA Photos

The move proved to be something of a disaster. Spurs had not been out of the top division since they came up in 1950 and had not suffered relegation since 1935, but early results suggested that they would be fighting against the drop as they lost eight of their first 11 games. The chance became a reality when, at the start of 1975, Neill's side beat Newcastle 5-2 but then went on a terrible nine-match run (8L, 1D) to put them second from bottom and four points from safety with seven games to go.

The catalyst for revival came in late March as Neill's young side finally claimed points with victories over Wolves and QPR. A huge pair of wins over relegation rivals Luton and Chelsea - despite being interspersed with defeats to Burnley and Arsenal - saw them glimpse the prospect of safety, but the manager was under the microscope more than most.

"I've been pilloried for saying I was not going to react suicidal to the crisis, but saying that I wanted the players to enjoy themselves," Neill told the Daily Mirror. "The trouble is that people surmise that if you are not winning then your method must be wrong; if you are winning then your method is perfect. But the game is just not like that."

With Carlisle already down and Luton and Chelsea having played all of their games - these were in the days before all teams played at the same time on the final day of the season - Tottenham would remain in the top flight if they beat Leeds in their last fixture. This was the same Leeds side that Jimmy Armfield had inherited, via Brian Clough, from Don Revie - a team that would finish as runners-up in the European Cup a month later, although their form in the league had seen them drop down to ninth place.

Leeds had nothing to play for but, speaking from a 'leafy Hertfordshire retreat' to which Neill had taken his squad to reinvigorate them for the most important game of their lives, the manager was not underestimating the challenge of the Whites. "Leeds have so many good players," he said. "The best squad in Britain and possibly the most professional in Europe... I look upon this game as a great one to win rather than a bad one to lose."

It would not take long for the nervous Tottenham fans to find peace. A historical match report on Spurs' official website read: "Nerves were settled after just five minutes when Cyril Knowles slammed home a free-kick from the edge of the area. Spurs dominated the opening period but were unable to get the vital second goal despite their constant bombardment of the Leeds goal.

"The second half continued in a similar vein and Spurs finally got their reward when Martin Chivers, back in the side after a two-month lay-off, fired home from close range. The result was virtually made safe on the hour when Knowles converted a penalty after Trevor Cherry had brought down Perryman.

"Jordan pulled a goal back for Leeds to silence the Spurs fans but the celebrations which followed Alfie Conn's strike to make it 4-1 were as loud and long as any Championship-winning season. An 81st-minute Peter Lorimer goal for Leeds went largely unnoticed by the home supporters, who swamped the pitch on the final whistle to mob their heroes on a memorable afternoon at the Lane."

The Daily Mail's David Miller wrote: "Spurs last night saved their fluttering First Division status with style and bravado. The match was a distinguished finale to the domestic season - but spelt doom for Luton [who went down in their place].

Terry Neill refused to get 'suicidal' over Spurs' poor run and ended the season with the fans chanting his name © Getty Images

"Here were the Spurs we used to know, reflections of the aristocrats who had been a credit to the post-war era... seldom, if ever, in League history has relegation been settled against such imposing opposition as the European Cup finalists, Leeds, with such a confident flourish as Terry Neill's men produced as their last stride."

Harry Miller of the Daily Mirror added: "Tottenham's heroes were left-back Cyril Knowles, centre-forward Martin Chivers - who was recalled for this do-or-die crunch after two months out in the cold - and Alfie Conn.

"Five weeks ago, chairman Sidney Wale said it would take a miracle to save Tottenham. But the miracle was achieved with a haul of ten points from their last seven games. The team's plight pulled in nearly 50,000 fans last night - many of them stayed on long after the final whistle chanting the name of Terry Neill, who succeeded Bill Nicholson as manager."

The Guardian's David Lacey observed that perhaps "the next most enjoyable experience to success is narrow survival" but, despite a top-half finish in his second season at White Hart Lane, Neill left in the summer and the club were relegated at the end of 1976-77 under Keith Burkinshaw.

What happened next?

Tottenham bounced straight back up again, while Neill went on to manage Arsenal and reached a host of cup finals but won only the one in 1979. While Leeds continued to find success under Armfield until 1978, they were relegated in 1982 as Levie's side broke up completely and their aura of invincibility dispersed. In contrast, Burkinshaw lifted his side and became Tottenham's second most successful manager (after Nicholson), bringing great success to the club in the '80s after the signing of two Argentine World Cup stars, Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.